April 20, 2013

The Text in The Dark Would

As is often the case nowadays, I have been too busy with other things to blog: one of which is starting work on the next Text Festival - opening 2 May 2014. In the meantime between the last festival and the next two projects have kept the Text Festival evolving - The Text Archive mentioned in my last blog, and Phil Davenport's The Dark Would. Phil has been an active and indispensable force in all of the Text Festivals - from his curation of the Bob Cobbing show in 2005 to the homeless poetry project in the 2011, and now The Dark Would. I have had many discussions with Phil during the creation of the anthology but take no credit for his significant achievement. A little close to it, I find it hard to review so in the first instance share, with his permission, Scott Thurston's response:   

"My appreciation of this anthology comes from my point of view as a contributor. Whilst this means my goal is not critical engagement, I hope to provide an insight into the workings of the book based on my involvement. That said, in many ways, the anthology comes equipped with its own critical apparatus through the extensive range of materials made available in its massive second volume, available as a kindle download. But more of that later. 

The striking cover of the 320 page paper volume offers a superb evocation of the Dantean pun in the title in the form of Marton Kóppány’s ‘The Secret’ – three interwoven sets of parentheses with a space in the middle which suggests an opening into a forest. The black and white purity of the cover design extends throughout the book, which has no pagination and orders its authors according to their year of birth, beginning with Rosmarie Waldrop (b. 1935) and ending with Leanne Bridgewater (b. 1989). Selections are small – mostly one or two pages – and this, and the black and white presentation throughout, not only makes the book a tremendously inviting environment to dive into but also underwrites its most fundamental curatorial proposition, that is, to produce an anthology that celebrates the continuum of language-based creative practice between visual art and poetry. Presenting all the material in black and white offers a visual analogy between text and image that is far more persuasive than it might have been in colour. 
In a book with over a hundred contributors, the standard is remarkably high, and the quality of reproduction means visual work in particular can be inspected in great detail. One of the real discoveries for me is Harald Stoffers’ (b. 1961) intricately-written letters in German which traverse an undulating landscape of stave-like lines suggesting waves, wood-grain or even digital mapping. Stoffers is an outsider artist like Ed Baker (b. 1941), whose impacted doodle-like constructions have a distant feel of Philip Guston and Clark Coolidge’s collaborations. I certainly find myself responding to work that encodes the haptic into its presentation, whether it be the cool dissections of space of Tony Trehy (b. 1960), the spidery writing-drawings of Satu Kaikkonen (b. 1967) or the elaborately torqued explosions of Eric Zboya (b. 1974). There is huge range of work however, which includes many senior artists more established as poets such as Charles Bernstein, Maggie O’Sullivan and Robert Sheppard, alongside those more established as visual artists such as Richard Long, Lawrence Weiner and Shirin Neshat.

My experience of contributing to this anthology was unlike any other I have been involved in. Philip Davenport came to me with his own requests and interests and encouraged me to show work that was more emergent, provisional and indeed haptic in its presentation. I submitted fragments of work in process – the very early scratching out of an area between movement and language that I’ve since been developing – and put my trust in Davenport to make his selection. This trust was amply returned. Davenport’s approach to editing is integral to the vitiating risk of this incredibly ambitious volume. On the one hand it is what makes it a very personal project for him in his fiftieth year – as he explains in his introduction – but on the other it is also what allows the anthology to emerge as more than the sum of its parts: less a series of individual contributions than a single visual essay taking a long panning shot of contemporary cultural production.

The kindle volume brilliantly utilises the digital form to achieve what any anthology editor wants – more room! Creative work here both extends the coverage of artists and projects within the paper volume but also introduces new artists and a section which includes longer works such as the remarkable collaborative text ‘River Riting’ by Rebecca Cremin and Ryan Ormonde, and other pieces by Richard Barrett, Ken Edwards, Steven Waling and Carol Watts. However, where the kindle volume really comes into its own is in the collection of a large number of statements of poetics, shading into critical writing and literary journalism, alongside nine substantial interviews. The scope of this section is astonishing and impossible to summarise – it is a hugely generous resource. Particular contributions that stand out for me include Alec Finlay’s autobiographical exegesis of his one-line framed poems; Tim Atkins’ bracing account of his appropriative poetics of translation, which also turns out to be informed by Buddhist thought; Carol Watts’ fascinating critical response to Richard Long’s work and Matt Dalby’s detailed account of his creative practice – accompanying more images of his stunningly beautiful ‘poem boxes’. The interview with Ruth and Marvin Sackner is intriguing on their relationship to their famous archive – now so massive there are objects within it that they have not seen for 25 years. I was struck by how Bob Cobbing – a key figure for Davenport – is paid tribute both here and in the terrific interview with Kenneth Goldsmith. The conversation with Goldsmith strikingly shows him rejecting the proposition that the conceptual art work need not be made – a key aspect of the poetics of this most industrious of artists.

It is however to Tony Trehy’s ‘Art and Text’ that one might turn for an important critical orientation in the field that Davenport surveys – to recognise the extent to which the use of language in visual artists can be underdeveloped, and the lack of awareness in the art world of the contributions made by poetry to language art. Taken together with Trehy’s statements elsewhere about his curatorship of the Bury Text Festival –a key context for Davenport’s project – in which he takes poets to task for not always entering into dialogue with visual artists, one gains an important sense of what is at stake in the enterprise of The Dark Would, and the dizzying array of potentials that it might release.

In conclusion then, I’ll hazard that this remarkable achievement sets out a legacy before it has even hit the floor. I hear it as a plea to develop the cross-generic approach even further so that it incorporates more totally the whole gamut of the arts – to encourage conversations not just between artists and writers, but between musicians and sculptors, between dancers and poets, between film-makers and performers, and to ultimately break down these generic distinctions altogether.

The Dark Would has shown the way – lose yourself in it. " (Scott Thurston - 11 April 2013)

The thing I would like to add is a thought about the relationship of Dark Would and other developing projects to what could be called a new phase of the Text Festival. When the Text Festival started in 2005, as the Art Monthly observed - emerging from the interstices of singularities that serve to rupture and renew normative discourse - 
it was driven purely by a burning question about how contemporary poetic practice engaged with language use in other artforms - primarily on that first occasion, conceptual art. It's main exhibitions included an ahistorical but interweaved presence of precursors such as Cobbing, Hamilton Finlay, and an engagement with the practice of LANGUAGE poetry which (while there is no suggestion of 'discovering' the 'movement's' achievements) it seemed to me at the time were not sufficiently influential or acknowledged in British writing. Someone might argue that the latter is not accurate, but that is how I viewed it at the time - with the emphasis in my perception on 'sufficiently'. 2009 and 2011 happened and what they were aimed to investigate can be found elsewhere, I don't need to write a history here. The point here is more that the Text was driven from one to the next by a fascination with what is next, what is possible, what might be interesting or significant then/now. The next Festival will have the same drive. I am being asked whether it will have a theme: in my thoughts I have a simple phrase that keeps returning: "The Languages" at the moment programming and selection somehow relates to that, but frankly the Text doesn't have themes only areas that are interesting. The criteria for selection is that it is doing something, investigating something. But the difference now is that the Festival has acquired a history. The creation of the Text Archive is creating a resource that language artists can work with, respond to and grow. Tony Lopez is currently editing a new book examining the implications and achievements of the Festival and there is the Dark Would. The Dark Would takes the ideas and experiences of the Text Festival forward in a way I couldn't have done. 

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